Pakistani Minister's Murder Receives Widespread Condemnation

Christian leaders and groups worldwide have been swift to condemn the murder of Pakistani minister Shahbaz Bhatti, who was the only Christian in the nation's federal cabinet and was gunned down by the al-Qaida and the Taliban on Wednesday.

Bhatti, a 42-year-old Roman Catholic and a campaigner for human rights, was killed while pulling out of the driveway of his mother's house in Islamabad, where he had stopped by for a short visit.

According to reports, two men approached the car and tried to pull Bhatti out of it while a third shot at the vehicle with a Kalashnikov rifle. In the end, Bhatti was hit with at least eight bullets and was pronounced dead on arrival after being rushed to a nearby hospital.

The motive for the killing was apparently religious, with al-Qaida and the Pakistani Taliban Movement claiming responsibility and accusing the government of putting Bhatti, an "infidel Christian," in charge of a federal committee to review blasphemy laws. The government denies that such a committee exists.

"It is with the greatest shock and sorrow that we have heard of the assassination of Mr Shahbaz Bhatti, Minister for Religious Minorities in Pakistan," a statement issued by the Anglican Archbishops of Canterbury and York on Wednesday reads. "This further instance of sectarian bigotry and violence will increase anxiety worldwide about the security of Christians and other religious minorities in Pakistan, and we urge that the Government of Pakistan will do all in its power to bring to justice those guilty of such crimes and to give adequate protection to minorities."

"Shahbaz Bhatti has tragically become another victim of violent intolerance and lawlessness in Pakistan," said Mervyn Thomas, chief executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide. "His loss will be felt keenly by all those pursuing justice and the rule of law."

"Shahbaz always said that the power of the blasphemy laws lay in the social attitudes which underpinned them," Thomas added. "He made it his goal to overcome faith-based divisions, and had already built unprecedented bridges between religious leaders in Pakistan."

"His killing shows more than ever before the need for others to take up the mantle of his pioneering work," he said.

As the leading advocate for Pakistan's Christian minority, Bhatti's death marks a huge loss for the group, who represent about five percent of the country's population and face a constant "erosion in…social and legal status," according to the United State's Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), which lists Pakistan as one of the worst countries for religious persecution.

In its 2010 report, the USCIRF noted the elimination of Pakistan's blasphemy law as a "priority," and urged the U.S. government to support interfaith dialogue efforts to make it happen.

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